HARARE, Zimbabwe — It was like manna from heaven for President Robert Mugabe’s besieged party.
Just as Zimbabwe’s 87-year-old ruler had run out of political sustenance of any sort, he was blessed with a deluge of disclosures that perked up his ailing Zanu-PF party and turned around his fortunes. WikiLeaks, like the U.S. cavalry, had come to the rescue.
The cables hit the world's headlines months ago, but journalists are only now writing about the leaked diplomatic messages from the U.S. embassy in Harare. The first WikiLeaks cables from Zimbabwe were particularly welcome to Mugabe because U.S. diplomats belittled Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s chief rival.
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United States Ambassador Chistopher Dell characterized Tsvangirai as “a flawed figure, not readily open to advice, indecisive, and with questionable judgment in selecting those around him.” If Tsvangirai ever came to power, he would need massive hand-holding, the Americans said.
Senior members of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change have said much the same thing recently — that he carries the imprint of the last person to have sat on him.
Mugabe deemed Tsvangirai’s meetings with Dell and other diplomats, where sanctions against Mugabe’s regime were discussed, so disloyal that he instructed the Attorney-General Johannes Tomana to set up a committee of inquiry, staffed by senior lawyers, to examine whether any act of treason had been commited by Tsvangirai in his discussions with the Americans.
The inquiry went nowhere. Tsvangirai was at liberty to speak to anybody at the U.S. embassy, it was concluded. But the government media continues to refer to Tsvangirai’s “treachery.”
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Then came a turning of the tide. The WikiLeaks cables assumed a different tenor. Two senior army officers told the Americans that armed forces commander Constantine Chiwenga, a Mugabe favorite and possible successor, was a “political general” with no experience but plenty of ambition.
It is not clear yet what their fate will be, but there has recently been a torrent of such remarks which are deeply damaging for Mugabe and his party. The latest Wiki disclosures reveal that retired intelligence supremo, Dumiso Dabengwa, told former U.S. ambassador Janes McGee that he had been asked by Mugabe acolytes to help remove the president.
Dabengwa last week confirmed meeting McGee and said his stance and that of late Retired General Solomon Mujuru was consistent in pressing Mugabe to step down.
Mujuru, husband of vice-president Joyce Mujuru, died in a mysterious fire at his farm last month.
“Everything that I have said in attempts to try and persuade him (Mugabe) to step down,” Dabengwa said, “from the 2007 congress up to the time before the 2008 elections have been consistent.”
Mugabe’s officials are showing signs of worry. Zanu-PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa said the WikiLeaks cables would be top of the agenda when the Zanu-PF politburo next meets.
“This is a serious matter and we need to talk about it so we come up with a collective decision,” he told an independent paper, NewsDay, last week.
Perhaps the most startling revelation has been that concerning former Information minister and politburo member Jonathan Moyo, who was reported to have sought out American officials to suggest how they could best undermine the president and impose sanctions.
Moyo, a vitriolic critic of the U.S. and publicist of the Mugabe regime, has repudiated the WikiLeaks reports, saying his words were twisted.
Former U.S. ambassador to Harare Dell described Moyo in 2007 as a “useful messenger” who provided an insight to the ruling party. “His ellipses and contradictions,” Dell wrote, “reflect the difficulties he has playing a weak political hand in a shifting and uncertain succession game.”
There are thought to be a total of 4,000 WikiLeaks cables on Zimbabwe. Only 20 have so far been published. This should give observers a good insight into Zimbabwe’s dysfunctional regime. Following a letter Tsvangirai wrote to U.S. President Barack Obama in December 2009 thanking him for his support of South African leader Jacob Zuma who is facilitating negotiations in Zimbabwe, the state media accused him of having “a well-established, treacherous relationship with the U.S. government."
Mugabe is in a fix. He will be damned if he allows his closest confidants to get away with giving vital information to the U.S. and damned if he doesn’t.
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Mugabe was gutted and terribly upset by the latest developments, said insiders.
“The president is shocked and devastated about these revelations,” a senior official was quoted as saying last week. “He would have never thought his own party officials who sit in the politburo and cabinet could betray him like that.”
What is clear, at the end of the day, is that some of the most important people in Mugabe's Zanu-PF party want him to go. So much so that they tell the Americans.